Novartis launched an initiative to help patients treat COVID-19 in low-income and lower-middle-income countries (LIC; LMIC) by offering access to affordable medicines to treat the major symptoms of COVID-19. Novartis has identified this as a critical need in the absence of a vaccine or curative treatment. Inflammation and respiratory problems linked to COVID-19 can cause severe medical complications and can lead to death in some people. Health systems in these countries, much like in the developed world, are under strain and stress. Moreover, they have declared the intent to provide all this at zero profit. Of course, the devil is always in the details, and the TrialSite will certainly monitor how this program unfolds. But this announcement represents a positive move on the part of the Basel, Switzerland-based company to leverage its capital, talent, products, and distribution network to help health care providers worldwide slow down this horrific virus. An example of “Big Pharma” is getting on the right side of history. Will other companies follow their lead?
This global pandemic has placed extreme pressure on healthcare systems in low and lower-income countries. The pandemic response portfolio complements the previously launched Novartis COVID-19 Response Fund to support healthcare workers and communities in over 50 projects worldwide. Novartis’ initiative will need to be magnified several times, but at least they have stepped forward, which demonstrates leadership and accountability associated with “Tier 1 pharmaceutical” companies.
What is the Product Bundle
Novartis will utilize its COVID-19 portfolio, including 15 medicines from its Sandoz division for gastrointestinal illness, acute respiratory symptoms, pneumonia, and septic shock. Novartis will select the medicines based on clinical relevance and availability to ensure demand can be met globally. The product bundle includes Amoxicillin, Ceftriaxone, Clarithromycin, Colchicine, Dexamethasone, Dobutamine, Fluconazole, Heparin, Levofloxacin, Loperamide, Pantoprazole, Prednisone, Prednisolone, Salbutamol, and Vancomycin.
Novartis will also offer drugs from its Novartis Access Portfolio (on-and off-patent medicines against key non-communicable diseases) via the local Novartis or Sandoz affiliate.
Novartis plans on selling these drugs to governments, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), and other institutional customers in up to 79 eligible countries at zero-profit to support financially-strained healthcare systems. Countries will have the flexibility to select the medicines in the portfolio that meet their healthcare needs. Eligible countries must be included in the World Bank’s list of LICs & LMICs.
Other Novartis Initiatives
The COVID-19 medicines portfolio is Novartis’ latest contribution to the global effort to combat the pandemic and support the stability of global healthcare systems. The company has committed to donating $40 million to support communities around the world impacted by the pandemic. In addition, Novartis has been active in two key cross-industry research initiatives, the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, coordinated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard, as well as a COVID-19 directed partnership organized by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).
Novartis continues to provide hydroxychloroquine for ongoing investigator-initiated trials (IITs) and upon government requests, as appropriate. The company is also separately supporting COVID-19 related clinical investigations of several Novartis medicines. To support access, the Novartis generics and biosimilars division Sandoz became the first company to commit to keeping stable prices for a basket of essential medicines that may help in the treatment of COVID-19 and entered into a partnership with US-based Civica Rx to support stable supply of essential generic hospital medicines.
Furthermore, AveXis, Novartis’s gene therapy unit, entered into a manufacturing agreement with Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital to produce its novel genetic COVID-19 vaccine candidate called AAVCOVID. More information about the Novartis response to COVID-19 is available on https://www.novartis.com/coronavirus
The TrialSite commends Novartis for their attempt to put forth a comprehensive and concerted effort to commit to helping not only develop innovative branded drugs targeting COVID-19, but importantly, to work with nations and communities worldwide to help alleviate the suffering caused by COVID-19 in the short run. The company should be open-minded to initiatives at the community provider level in the United States and beyond. As new material findings are available, incorporate new generic options, whether it be antivirals, anti-parasitic, or other therapies that may turn out to have efficacy. Frankly, the TrialSite believes the heroes of the story are community-level physicians and their health care professional support, working tirelessly to find off label uses that help reduce the duration of the illness. Innovation should be about finding low-cost ways to quickly reduce this crisis, and Novartis represents a “big Pharma” that appears to have at least taken a step to support that direction.